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9 Tips on How to Make an Effective 911 Call

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Most of us probably assume we know how to make a 911 call. In a high-stress situation, calling 911 should be the least stressful part of dealing with an emergency. But the act of effectively reporting a crisis is not as simple as just dialing 9-1-1.

One can only hope that you'll never have to make such a call (and if you do, that you don't encounter what Cleveland kidnapping victim Amanda Berry did; police are investigating how her 911 call was handled, The Huffington Post reports).

So what should you do (and say) if you ever need to call 911? Consider these nine tips:

  1. Try to remain calm. Take a deep breath when you're asked "What is your emergency?" This will help both you and the dispatcher to interact efficiently.
  2. Cell phone or land line? Yes, we are in the age of the smartphone, but 911 calls from cell phones may not tell the 911 dispatcher where you are. With land lines, however, the address associated with that number will show up on a dispatcher's screen. (While 911 texting services have made headlines, they're not yet available everywhere.)
  3. Know your location. If you do call 911 from a cell phone, this is crucial and important. The more accurate and detailed your location report is, the quicker dispatchers can get emergency crews to answer your call. Describing major cross streets and landmarks can help.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings. This is not only helpful in determining your location, but it's crucial in helping you to describe other victims, the suspects, or other details about the scene.
  5. Don't hang up. You may hear clicking, static, or pauses as the call progresses, but this doesn't mean your call has been dropped.
  6. Let the 911 dispatcher guide the conversation. They are trained in this process and know about pertinent details that are usually required in the given situation.
  7. Be patient. The call may seem to take forever or seem like it's being dragged out, but the dispatcher is most likely typing information into the system while simultaneously alerting services to your whereabouts.
  8. Follow all directions. Be sure to ask for clarification if you don't understand, especially if the 911 dispatcher directs you to provide emergency aid.
  9. Don't cry wolf. While you should feel free to call 911 in an emergency, too many 911 calls can get you arrested. If the situation does not require an immediate response by police, firefighters, or paramedics, consider calling a non-emergency number instead.

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